Sunday, August 2, 2015

Prairie Berry East Bank: The Good,The Bad, and The Ugly

For those of you who are not familiar, Prairie Berry is a South Dakota winery. Kind of an oxymoron, I know since this isn't exactly grape country. The original location is in the Black Hills near Hill City. Like most other SD based wineries, Prairie Berry produces a lot of fruit wines, made from things like rhubarb. This seems to hearken back to the dandelion wine all of us were told about as kids by our parents and grandparents. Although, Prairie Berry also produces some regular varietals like Zinfandel under its Ana Pesa label, named in honor of the winemakers grandmother.

Earlier this year, Prairie Berry opened a branch office on the East Bank in Sioux Falls. It's located in the building where you also find Queen City Bakery on 8th Street. I have visited a few times. Like most places, service was a bit clunky when it first opened. It's clicking better now, at least to a point where I feel justified making some comments and sharing some thoughts.

The Good

What's good about the place? The space where Prairie Berry East Bank is located is beautiful. The building is an old Sioux Quartzite building and the interiors are the stone walls. It's really well done and really gorgeous. There is retail space inside, a small bar area that seats maybe 8-10, a tall communal high-top table and perhaps 8 tables for seating. There is also some outdoor seating.

The food is also worthy of mention. The menu items are good and feature soups, salads, and pizzas. Recently, Prairie Berry opened an Epicurean Bar featuring selections of cured meats and cheeses, some of which is relatively locally sourced. I have noticed some cheeses from Iowa. You can select what you want and it is cut to order. It's really outstanding, but there are significant drawbacks. We will get to that.

The beverage selection is also pretty good. Prairie Berry brews craft beer under the Miner name and there are some very unique beers. Try the Blue IPA made with blueberries or any limited-edition brew. As for wines, unless the fruit wines are your thing (and they are certainly not mine) stick to the Ana Pesa.

The Bad

Although generally well-staffed, there is no table service. If you want food or beverages, you need to go order them. It's not necessarily abundantly clear how it all works, so consider yourself forewarned.

It's also not abundantly clear when the place is open and for what. I know of small groups who have walked in at say 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening t enjoy some wine and food, only to be turned away because it was closing time. Conversely, you may be able to get drinks at some hours, but not food.

Remember that Epicurean bar I mentioned? Also seemingly totally random. Apparently, only a few key employees have license to operate the state-of-the-art slicer and scale to portion out selections. You can walk in there at the middle of the day on a Saturday after doing some browsing or farmers marketing downtown, only to find out the charcuterie cutter upper doesn't come in until 3 pm.

The Ugly

First and foremost, it's the pricing. As I mentioned above, the space itself is very nice. There is merchandise for sale, but it's not bursting in your face. Let's put it this way: it's not hard to walk around inside. I should know better that this is generally a warning, because businesses have to pay for that prime real estate and swanky decor somehow. Make no mistake about it, the joint is spendy. A couple beers or glasses of wine for you and a friend, along with a charcuterie tray could very well set you back 50 to 75 bucks depending on how carried away you might get.

The other ugly is largely a repeat- it's the randomness of the whole thing. Never knowing for sure if you can get food or beverages at the time of day you want to visit. If the place is open, is the Epicurean bar available? Are all the items on the menu available? I heard one server have to explain to a customer who walked up to the bar to order that the items he wanted from the menu were unavailable and that the menu was extremely outdated. WTF? Throw it away and print one that actually has items that are available! How hard is that?

I'm also really torn on service. The people are really quite nice and are knowledgeable about product. But I miss an overall sense of urgency. Exhibit one on that is the fact that the last time I ordered charcuterie, it took a whopping 45 minutes from placement of order to delivery. Honest to God, a high school kid at any Hy Vee deli could have cut up everything in the case in the same amount of time.

Overall, I am not headed back anytime soon and I would have a hard time recommending the place to friends, at least without severe reservations and a bevy of disclaimers. I don't mind paying a little more for special or good product, but that has to include the entire package-- good stuff, beautiful decor, and smart, snappy service. And these guys just don't seem to have it figured out yet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Haven't been there, but this is kind of what I expected after going to their winery in the Hills. I strongly disliked most of their wines, much too sweet for me. One glass of Kick Ass Rhubarb or whatever is more than enough and then I'm ready for something dry. Hopefully they get it turned around soon but I don't have high hopes :(